By Katie Fallon
After negotiations hit an impasse, the Sandy Springs City Council approved the use of eminent domain to obtain two properties that are holding up progress on construction of the Abernathy Greenway Linear Park.
At its Dec. 18 meeting, council voted unanimously to move forward with eminent domain proceedings to obtain the properties at 70 and 205 Abernathy Road. Both lots are in the direct path of the future Abernathy Greenway Linear Park.
The city’s Public Works Director Angelia Parham told the council that negotiations for both properties were deadlocked and that purchase of the lots could not move forward without the use of eminent domain, which is a form of property condemnation.
The property at 70 Abernathy Road is located six lots east of the intersection with Brandon Mill Road. Currently owned by Charles Cope, the residential lot comprises just .0236 of an acre according to the Fulton County Tax Assessor web site.
Similarly, the property at 205 Abernathy Road is owned by the estate of Whit A. Johnson and is situated just west of Roswell Road and just east of Wright Road. Its size is just less than one acre.
Neither of the property owners was present at the council meeting nor available for comment at press time.
District 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny commended the Public Works Department staff for using traditional means of acquisition for all the necessary Abernathy Road properties, except for the two voted upon at the council meeting.
“These particular properties are the only ones of 31 lots,” McEnerny said. “I want to applaud our staff for being able to negotiate at arm’s length fairly and equitably by far and away the majority of the owners in (the path of) this roadway.”
Not everyone at the council meeting, however, was as enamored with the city’s efforts to acquire remaining properties on Abernathy Road.
Robert Lesesne owns the property at 211 Abernathy Road, which is directly adjacent to the 205 Abernathy Road heading toward Roswell Road. He said he is also still in negotiations with the city to buy his property, but has been extremely dissatisfied with the process so far.
“I’ve been really disturbed with the negotiations because my experience so far has been it’s their way or there is no other way,” he said.
Lesesne claimed he had his own property appraisal performed, a process that resulted in an incomparable price from the city’s appraisal.
“Obviously, I realize there is also a bias when I get an appraisal, but I’m just a little disturbed with how this process has gone,” Lesesne said.
The city’s Deputy Public Works Director Jon Drysdale, however, defended the appraisal process.
“Our appraisals are reviewed by [the Georgia Department of Transportation] for accuracy because federal funds are involved,” Drysdale said. “So they go through that standard of care at our level and they’re checked by GDOT.”
Drysdale said 41 parcels of land on Abernathy Road have been identified as falling within the planned area of the linear park. Of those parcels, the city has closed on 30 of them. Another nine are still under negotiation. The remaining two were the ones for which the council voted to go forth with eminent domain proceedings.
City Attorney Wendell Willard said a court can determine a selling price for the properties acquired through eminent domain.
“You can have differing opinions from qualified real estate appraisers,” Willard said. “It is an educated understanding of what the value may be.”
Willard said eminent domain was being used to settle the dispute over the remaining properties’ prices in order to move the linear park project forward and keep it on schedule.
Also during the Dec. 18 meeting, the City Council failed to vote on an impact fee ordinance in favor of altering the program that had been brought up at the Dec. 11 work session and then presenting it again at a later date.